A Remarkable Trip Back to the Living : Health: A brother's love helps a star Orange County athlete beat the odds against a deadly challenger: meningitis.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk."

Advertising copy writers could never have known that pro basketball star Shaquille O'Neal's catchy phrase in a shoe commercial would one day represent the most important moment in the young life of Jamie Shine.

It is a life that recently included a junior prom, a 17th birthday party, watching her brother graduate from high school, and two national holidays celebrating the family--Mother's Day and Father's Day. A gifted athlete, Shine enjoyed these milestones because she had just waged her greatest, most determined effort ever. If she never wins another game, she already has won the most important battle of all.

To live.

Shine is more than a three-sport athlete at El Modena High; she's a three-sport star. During her junior year, she excelled at volleyball, basketball and track. Her goal is to win a Century League championship in basketball and earn a scholarship to play for a women's program in college. She was the league's most valuable player in basketball and an all-league performer in volleyball.

There was little indication last April that what seemed to be simple flu symptoms were instead a precursor to the most aggressive strain of bacterial meningitis, meningococcal meningitis, a rare, contagious inflammation of the spinal cord and brain membranes. It often attacks children, and it is often fatal.

It almost succeeded against Shine but was beaten back by what her doctor called "the heavy guns"--initial doses of more than 20 million units of penicillin per day, eventually tapering to 4 million units every 24 hours through 11 days, in addition to multiple other antibiotics--and a family's unyielding will to make her live.

When parents Brenda and Tom Shine were led to a private room to consult with Dr. John Gentile, they first received this warning: "We're going to go past her room, and I don't want you to look in, I want you to keep walking; they're working on her." And when they got into his office in the emergency room, Gentile handed each a box of Kleenex and said, "Your daughter is very, very ill."

And Tom asked, "What do you mean very ill?"

The response, blunt, was thundering: "I would not be blown away if the worst happens. She is critically ill."

No one would say the word "die," and the parents didn't even consider it. Brenda thought about what Jamie would consider the worst, and decided it would be that her little girl wouldn't play basketball again.

"What do you mean?," Tom asked, irritated, growing angry. "What are we looking at here? Are we looking at days?"

"No," Gentile said, "we're counting the minutes."

They were told she had lapsed into a coma, which would ultimately last 30 hours.

"Do you mean she's just asleep?" Tom asked.

"We did a pain threshold test, and we grabbed her Achilles tendon, and if I grabbed yours the way I grabbed hers, you would scream with pain," the doctor said. "And Jamie didn't respond."

It was a little after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28, and fear had just found a home. Until then, Brenda Shine thought her daughter had the flu. Jamie had said something about a headache to her father at the Mt. Carmel Invitational in San Diego on Saturday. She finished sixth out of nine runners in her heat of the 400 meters.

Jamie complained of achiness on Monday, but Brenda thought her daughter had just overexerted herself with all her activities.

She went to school Tuesday and complained to friends at a softball game and to her father at her brother Casey at his volleyball match. Surprisingly, she even cried. That was unusual.

"Jamie's not a complainer, a whiner or a crier," Brenda Shine recalled.

Off to bed when she got home. Her temperature was 104, but that didn't cause alarm because she has always run a high temperature, Brenda said.

Jamie took a Tylenol at 8:30 p.m., and she vomited at 11. Brenda diagnosed the flu. Jamie slept through the night, and at 7:30 Wednesday morning, her temperature had dropped to 102.7. Brenda told Jamie to stay home from school. Jamie didn't argue--she just wanted to sleep.

Tom Shine, the offensive coordinator for Rancho Santiago College's football team, was headed to practice when he remembered he was supposed to look in on Jamie around noon. She told him about the rash on her legs--they didn't know it was her capillaries bursting--and Tom called Brenda, who teaches at Orange Coast College. She called the doctor's office and made a 2 p.m. appointment. Tom went to practice.

Brenda arrived home and found her daughter on the couch in the fetal position, jaundiced and dehydrated, grasping her head, the mute button turned on the television set because the noise seemed too much. There was a bucket nearby. She had been that way for an hour, experiencing dry heaves, watching the clock, waiting for her mother to arrive. "It was the longest hour of my life," Jamie recalled. "It was the worst headache--times infinite."

Brenda didn't see the rash and asked where it was.

"I don't know, Mommy," came the response. "Hurry. It hurts too bad."

"What hurts?'

"My head."

When they reached the FHP Tustin Medical Center, the elevator door opened and the receptionist immediately took notice, calling for Dr. Rosemary Ford and a wheelchair. Ford reacted quickly.

"If she had hesitated," Brenda Shine said of Ford's response, "Jamie wouldn't be here."

Ford suspected meningitis, and 15 minutes later had her test results: A normal white blood cell count is between 7 and 10 thousand per cubic millimeter, but Jamie's was 29.9 thousand.

Jamie received a shot to prevent the dry heaves and began getting sleepy. Brenda thought it was from the shot. Instead, Jamie was slipping into a coma. Ford had the Shines transported by ambulance to FHP Hospital in Fountain Valley. It was 3 p.m.

Dr. Steven Silverman, the emergency room physician who confirmed the diagnosis, met them, immediately had Brenda sign a series of release forms and explained the consequences of a spinal tap. He asked if Tom was there. He wasn't.

Thirty minutes later, Dr. Gentile appeared and asked if Tom had arrived. He hadn't.

Gentile, director of emergency medicine for FHP, said doctors had done the spinal tap, and he believed it was spinal meningitis, but he wanted to talk to Brenda Shine and her husband together.

Gentile returned in about 10 minutes. Tom Shine had arrived. Gentile invited them to a private room, where he had the two boxes of Kleenex waiting.

Tom and Brenda Shine were raised Catholic, and so was their daughter. A priest from the local parish entered Jamie's room at 11 p.m., where he first administered confirmation, then last rites. He left 20 minutes later, his work complete.

The Shines--joined by Casey, since turned 19, a three-sport standout at El Modena and Jamie's best friend--went into her glass-enclosed isolation room in the intensive care unit. There, all of them gowned, gloved and masked, Casey took Jamie's hand and asked his parents to join him in prayer.

She was on a respirator and was in a medically induced paralysis so that her body wouldn't expend any more energy than necessary. She was drugged by morphine and restrained because her seizure earlier in the evening had dislodged the respirator.

It was Casey's prayer, a tribute to Jamie, that overwhelmed Brenda Shine: "That was harder than the last rites."

"I can't even imagine the suffering (Casey) felt," she said. "As a mother it hurts, but as a kid to a kid, for what they've shared over the years. . . ."

A long night followed with each taking turns at Jamie's bedside.

Gentile arrived at 9 a.m. the next morning, Thursday. Ironically, he had suffered the same illness as a child and had pulled through. His experience had provided hope for the Shines who, like the attending medical staff, had to receive treatment to guard against contracting the disease

In the meantime, the Orange County Health Department had contacted El Modena High and advised that anyone who had been within a three-foot "coughing distance" from Jamie since Saturday see a doctor for treatment.

Gentile examined Jamie and returned to the intensive care waiting room an hour later. With Tom and Brenda on either side of him, his arms around them both, he made them breathe easier. "I want you to go home and plan a wonderful life," he said. "You're going to have your daughter. She has made it through."

Said Brenda: "At that point, he told us how critical the last few hours had been, that 97% die in the first 12 hours, and those who survive usually have some type of neurological or physical damage from the swelling to the brain. We asked, 'What are Jamie's chances?' He said we won't know until she comes out of the coma."

He encouraged stimulation--touching, talking. Doctors decreased her supply of drugs around noon, not wanting to prolong the coma.

News spread at El Modena and that afternoon, students were visiting. Jamie began coming out of the coma as the evening progressed. About 9 p.m., her hand moved. The next morning, Friday, between 8 to 9 a.m., in a stupor with Casey at her side, Jamie mouthed the word, "out," indicating she wanted the respirator tube removed from her mouth.

Doctors gave her a drug that counteracted the morphine, seeking to get her conscious enough to determine if there was any brain damage. They encouraged visitors to speak to her, hopefully sparking her memory.

It had been 20 hours since Casey had arrived at the hospital, demanding to see his sister with the plea, "I want to see her now; if anyone can make her do it, I can make her do it." At 2 p.m., Casey did it. He asked the question he had asked so many times under more pleasant circumstances, repeating the opening passage of the O'Neal commercial for Reebok.

"What's the password, Jamie?"

Softly, with a scratchy voice, she told him:

"Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk."

Jamie was in the hospital for seven days. She received about a hundred cards and letters from friends and strangers, including the Crystal Cathedral's Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who had undergone surgery after the discovery of a brain tumor.

Wrote Schuller: "Recently, after I survived a very difficult ordeal, someone said to me, 'You lived through it.' I answered politely, 'Minor correction! I loved through it! That's why I lived through it.' I chose to believe! I chose to love! And chose to be positive! 'I have a plan for your life, it is a plan for good and not evil. It is a plan to give you a future with hope.' Jeremiah 29:11. . . ."

A classmate wrote a poem in an English class about Casey's strength as his sister lay unconscious. The teacher read it in class. There were tears everywhere. Another classmate wrote about Jamie. Isis Orejel, a Santa Ana Valley junior who competed against Shine, dedicated the Century League's 440-yard league final to Jamie, then won it.

Jamie returned to school on her birthday, May 20. She began exercising four days later. She finished the school year with three As and three Bs. She remembers everything she knew before the ordeal but suffers from short-term memory deficit and will be tutored this summer with strategies to compensate for it.

She has gained back 14 of the 20 pounds she lost on her 6-foot frame. She says she still is only about 75% of where she was before. She is competing in a summer basketball league and was El Modena's leading scorer in the Vanguards' first four games and selected to play in the all-star game.

She plans to play volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter.

A born-again Christian since the summer before eighth grade, but still "a baby Christian" by her admission, Jamie has since taken to heart a poem called "Footsteps in the Sand," which was written on the shirt Casey wore when he arrived at the hospital. It is a poem about a person's walk with the Lord, and asks why, in times of trial, there was only one set of footprints in the sand. And the Lord responds, "That's when I carried you."

"I totally believe that," Jamie Shine says through tears. "I'm really trying to become closer to the Lord now. He gave me another chance. I know He has a life planned out for me."

Meningitis Snapshot

* Name: Meningitis (pronounced mehn-in-JY-tis)

* Description: Affects the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord--the meninges. Some forms of bacterial and viral meningitis are highly contagious.

* Cause: Infection by bacteria, viruses, fungi or other microbes. Bacterial and viral are most common forms.

* At risk: Those with conditions that weaken resistance to infection are at greatest risk. Most frequently strikes infants and children, but people of all ages can get it.

* Development: In most cases, the bacteria or viruses inhabit the respiratory organs. Microbes pass into the bloodstream and are carried to the brain.

* Damaging effects: Bacterial meningitis can cause severe brain damage, deafness, paralysis, muscle weakness, mental retardation, blindness, changes in behavior and death.

* Symptoms: The symptoms of bacterial meningitis are more severe than those of the viral type and vary with age. Among infants and children, symptoms include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, sleepiness and uncontrollable jerking of the limbs. In older children and adults, symptoms are headache, back pain, muscle aches, stiff neck and sensitivity to light in the eyes.

* Treatment: No specific treatment is effective against viral meningitis. Bacterial variety is treated with antibiotics. Most patients recover in several weeks.

* Prevention: No effective means of preventing viral meningitis. Vaccines can protect against some types of bacterial meningitis.

Source: World Book Encyclopedia

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